THE OUTBREAK of war in Europe caused little surprise in Washington military and naval circles. For months the signs had been plain to read., The only question in my mind was: How long will it be before the United States gets into the war? We were drawn into World War I, and it seemed inevitable that we would be involved in World War II, first in Europe and ultimately in the Pacific, if an d when Japan joined the Axis and started casting covetous eyes across the Pacific after she was firmly established on the Asiatic mainland. The stockpiles I had observed being accumulated on the West Coast for shipment to Japan could have only one purpose.
[World War II Begins in Europe
Marines Train for Amphibious Warfare]
Nobody could honestly say that in Washington we did not appreciate the danger of the situation. The prospect of this country's being involved in the European war was readily admitted but5, ironically, there was little realization of the necessity for full preparations for that war. It was another case of everybody knowing what was going to happen but nobody during much about it.
Frankly, we were not prepared for war--not by a long shot. The armed services had long been starved for funds and the country's defenses were operating on a shoestring because the Army, Navy and Marine Corps were hogtied and hobbled by the insane refusal of the American people even to consider the possibility of having to fight another war. We, as a grateful people, build magnificent memorials to our war dead but we begrudge spending a nickel for defenses strong enough to insure that we shall have no more dead heroes.
Proof of the common attitude toward our defense needs
came in 1938 when Rear Admiral Arthur J. Hepburn was appointed by Congress to head a board to study band recommend additional naval bases in the Atlantic and the Pacific. Congress then proceeded to wreck the report by rejecting, among other things, a plan for fortifying Guam, the Mid-Pacific island that was to cost us 7,902 casualties, dead and wounded, to recapture.
Rear Admiral Joseph K. Taussig appeared before a Congressional committee and predicted a war with Japan as the basis for the Navy's needs for additional facilities. SO horrified was official and public reaction to his frank speaking that, as a reward for his patriotic services, Taussig was threatened with a court martial and transfer to inactive duty. Such was the American ostrich that required a Pearl Harbor to blast its head out of the sand. Unfortunately, the explosion came too late to save the Pacific Fleet.
In addition to public inertia, the Marine Corps had its own troubles, not stemming from lack of foresight or inability to assess military necessities. Despite ample warning, it was not until the fall of 1942, three years after the Nazis marched into Poland and nine months after the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, that we were able to place a fully trained but only partially equipped Marine division in the field although we had two divisions organized.
The Marine Corps has always suffered from the difficulties inherent in a younger brother relationship; a small unit attached to a large force like the Navy which, crippled by its own meager appropriations, tossed us the crumbs. This scant ration was not always doled out intelligently or sympathetically.
Let me explain to the reader our relationship with the Navy. Although Marines primarily are land troops and perform most duties ashore, we are part of the naval establishment. We have our own Commandant but operationally we are commanded by the Commander-in-Chief of the U.S. Fleet in the particular theater where we are serving. We derive our being from the Navy. All Marine procurements come through the Navy. A Navy Budget Officer scrutinizes and passes or rejects all recommendations.
This officer is generally a senior captain, frequently a competent sailor familiar with his duties on board ship but certainly not qualified to pass on equipment and supplies needed for an amphibious force like the Marines.
I have objected to this Navy Budget Officer system for years. Surely a self-contained force like Marine Corps, which can be trusted to conduct a war ashore, also can be trusted to budget for its own needs. We could do it more efficiently that the Navy because we know what we want. The Navy was its own particular supply problems to handle. However, this is the system and it survives to this very day. The Marines cannot obtain the most insignificant item without naval approval. Every pair of socks, every pair of shoes, every undershirt, every round of ammunition, every gun, every tank must be passed on by the Budget Officer, whose mind is thousands of miles away with a broad deck under his feet, the rolling ocean around him, and an efficient executive officer to run his ship.
As Director of Operations and Training in Washington, I included in one of our appropriations schedules an item for half a dozen artillery trucks to haul ammunition. The Budget Officer at that time was a captain who later achieved dubious renown at Pearl Harbor. When his eye encountered this item he paused and asked, "Why don't you do like the Army and use mules and wagons to haul ammunition?"
I choked back the obvious riposte, "There are enough jackasses in the Navy to do the pulling but where would we get the wagons?"
On the credit side of our budgetary methods--and whether it stems from the Navy, or Marine Corps, I don't know--it is a matter of record that, dollar for dollar, the taxpayer derives more return from his Marine Corps than from any other armed service. In 1940, for example, we had the world's premier Marine Crops, which cost the country approximately $1,800.00 per individual Marine, whereas we then had the world's eighteenth army, at a cost of almost twice as much per soldier. In all fairness, it must be added that an army is bound to be somewhat more expensive, because as you get increased size, you lose efficiency and accumulate
overhead. If in no other sense, though, the Marine Corps will continue to be a national asset simply as a yardstick to enable the public to assess the efficiency (both professional and budgetary) of the Army.
On my way down to Culebra in the spring of 1940, mulling over the responsibilities of new duties assigned me in the West Indies, I often thought of that horse-and-wagon budgeteer. His remark was a cross section of official thought and typical of the obstacles which Marines constantly met in Washington. Such an attitude was incredible, but there it was in the full flower of obtuseness.
At that time I was in command of the 1st Marine Brigade, Fleet Marine Force, with headquarters at Quantico, Virginia. Before leaving the West Coast for Marine Headquarters in Washington, Major General Holcomb, our Commandant, promised me that I would be with him only two years. I was not, and never have been, attracted to an office job. Active field duty is my meat and drink. As it happened, however, instead opf two years I actually served thirty months in Washington before I was given brigade command.
The 1st Marine Brigade, with the 1st Marine Air Group attached, was the landing force in Fleet Landing Exercises No. 6, or Flex-t as it was officially truncated--the sixth of a series of maneuvers held annually in the Caribbean or on the West Coast to test the progress of amphibious training.
For six years we had been putting into practice the new Marine doctrine but still lacked adequate equipment. Starved for funds, the Marine Equipment Board had done its best with the means available, and at Culebra we had made a number of practice landings in boats provided by our antiquated Bureau of Ships, which could do no better than furnish us with outmoded tank lighters, non-propelled artillery lighters and useless personnel landing craft. We did not possess a single ramp boat, although the Japanese had been using ramp boats in China for years. Lack of proper transports, shortage of personnel and a limited production schedule for new weapons also hampered us while the ships needed by the Atlantic Fleet for the 1940 neutrality
patrols reduced the strength of the naval units participating in the landings.
Nevertheless, the 1940 exercise was the most advanced and realistic attempted to date. The outbreak of war in Europe had quickened the tempo of training and as I regarded Japan as our official enemy, Flex 6 assumed for me a new significance. I had to fight official apathy and lack of imagination in Washington top put my ideas across. Few of the top brass could visualize the coral islands leading to Japan and the form of warfare the Marines would have to fight to capture them.
Rear Admiral Hayne Ellis, Commander, Atlantic Fleet, commanded the "Farragut Attack Force"--so called--which included Battleship Division Five, comprising the old BBs Texas, Arkansas and Wyoming; Cruiser Division Seven less one ship; Destroyer Squadron Ten; Submarine Division Eleven and a "transport" group. I quote transport because, in reality, we had no transports. This group comprised the old battleship Wyoming, the supply ship Capella and one "APD," a World War I four-stack destroyer converted into a troop transport.
We embarked at Quantico and Norfolk aboard any ship available, taking with us 1,000 tons of supplies distributed throughout the fleet. The total Marine landing force was approximately 3,000 men, considerably less than a full brigade although we called ourselves a brigade. I had two battalions of infantry, a small battalion of artillery, a small engineer company, a small signal company, a small supply company and five light tanks whose armor was so thin that one clout from a claw hammer would dent it.
These five-ton tanks had been built experimentally with the claim that they particularly fitted Marine requirements. This claim was highly exaggerated. The tanks were fast, but after each operation the temperamental vehicles had to go back to the ship for repairs. The only way we could express our appreciation was to name them after the man who authorized them--Admiral Harold R. (Betty) Stark, Chief of Naval Operations at the time. Our Bettys were mechanical misfits, but they were better than nothing.
During the three landing operations comprising Flex 6, we held training and field exercises ashore on Culebra, the island I had last seen when I rented it for Marine training in 1923. On the south coast of Culebra is the little village of Dewey, named after the Spanish-American War hero, but the island is sparsely populated. It is hilly, with deep valleys and plenty of scrubby trees and tall grass for cattle fodder. Culebra has no fresh water. Rain water was collected in great concrete catchment basins and when this natural supply failed we brought fresh water in barges over from Puerto Rico, a few miles across the straits.
We landed our heavy supplies at Dewey's small pier while the men ran their boats up on the beach and got their first taste of island landing. It was a deceptively mild preclude to the assaults made in war. We made camp in tents and I established my headquarters in a small frame building near the airfield in the center of the island, where the 1st Marine Air Group was stationed.
On my staff at this time were men who subsequently linked their fortunes with mine in the Pacific and served with distinction throughout the war. My chief of staff was Colonel Julian C. Smith, later Commanding General of the Second Division at Tarawa. My G-1 was Lieutenant Colonel John T. Selden; G-2, Lieutenant Colonel A.D. Challacombe; G-3, Lieutenant Colonel David R. Nimmer, later Commanding General III Amphibious Corps, Artillery, and G-4, Lieutenant Colonel George R. Rowan. The Brigade Surgeon was Commander Warwick T. Brown, USN.
We were fortunate in having a man like Rear Admiral Ellis in command. He had considerable experience in training Marines for landing operations and enjoyed the respect and admiration of officers and men. He rendered us every possible assistance, was sympathetic to our shortcomings and placed at our disposal every facility his limited force could supply. Moreover, he lacked that bombastic pomposity too often found in certain naval officers who attempt to assume responsibility over matters with which they are not familiar.
Contrasting unpleasantly with Hayne Ellis' forbearance and understanding of Marine problems was an experience I had with the chief of staff of another admiral during maneuvers. I
was testing radio telephone communications between ship and shore and sent a trick message designed phonetically for audibility and clarity, accepted as perfectly sensible by communications men although it sounds childish to the uninitiated.
This was the message: "I now can see twenty-nine men under a tree." The test was routine, everything checked and I forgot about it until I was back on ship that night. There I was promptly taken to task by the chief of staff for sending what he called "a silly, unmilitary message" and wasting the time of his communications officer.
Three landings in Flex 6 were held between February 15 and March 8 on Culebra and the neighboring island of Vieques. Included was a night landing from rubber boats. Introducing reality, we used submarines for reconnaissance missions and for landing scouts, and we constructed underwater defenses to obstruct access to the beaches. Naval gunfire covered shore operations and the training emphasized control of fire and the capabilities of different types of ammunition on targets to be expected in war.
Before passing to an analysis of Flex 6, which was the turning point in our amphibious outlook, let me give the reader a tabloid of an amphibious landing from ship to shore. From transports at a point off the enemy coast, men and equipment are loaded into boats,organized into waves and sent to the beach at intervals to capture the objective, which in war already has been subjected to intense preliminary naval bombardment and air attack in order to neutralize or reduce opposition to the assault forces. This sounds simple enough but the loading of the boats, the formation of the assault waves, the timing of the waves, the overhead protection by airplanes and the supporting fire from warships must be coordinated to the nth degree.
All possible information regarding the beach and the area beyond the beach must be obtained. This is done by study of maps, charts and air photographs, reconnaissance of scouts landed at night,l and even by survey of the coral floor by underwater demolition teams of expert swimmers. Until the assault forces hit the beach, command is in the hands of the Navy. Once
ashore, command passes to the Army or Marine shore commander.
Obviously, plans must be elastic in the event they are disarranged by the unexpected strength of enemy resistance, gunfire and mines, boats breaking down, adverse tides, high surf,bad weather and other unpredictable contingencies. In principle, however, an amphibious operation is the same for a company of a hundred men as it is for a corps of thousands. The Marines followed this pattern from Guadalcanal to Iwo Jima.
After this basic exercise at Culebra, we returned to Quantico with a far clearer picture of our needs. Despite deficiencies in matériel, I felt that Flex 6 showed we had made tremendous progress and that both Navy and Marines were indoctrinated in the principles involved in the new science of warfare.
The chief deficiencies were technical and quantitative. We still did not have enough landing boats of the right kind. We needed more boats capable of retracting after debarking their passengers. During Flex 6, we tested twenty-five special landing craft of three different types, as well as new tank and artillery lighters, with varying results.
In general, operations were confined to the use of ordinary ship's motor boats totally unsuited for work in the surf, which runs as high as six and eight feet at Culebra. The only way these boats could be handled was to head them for the beach until they almost touched bottom and then drop a stern anchor until the men could pile overboard. This way the troops got soaked to the armpits.Not particularly objectionable in warm weather, this saturation is very uncomfortable in cold weather. It also wets all equipment, fills the men's shoes with sand and makes marching difficult ashore. At Culebra,landing waves were disorganized when anchors were fouled and boats swamped in the surf.
For years the Marine Corps had been trying to secure proper boats but we got neither adequate appropriations to build them ourselves nor enthusiastic support from the outmoded Bureau of Ships, whose job it should have been to provide us with the craft. For Flex 6 the Bureau provided a dozen boats copied from the type used by Cape Cod fishermen, with modifications. These
quaint models might stock the New England fish markets but they were unsuitable for assault landing purposes. Eight landing skiffs from the Bureau were no better. Two Navy tank lighters proved mechanical handicaps, almost denying us the use of our precious five tanks.They would have got us nowhere in combat, except killed, since they habitually functioned on only one of two engines.
So much for the debit side of the boat account. On the credit side was the first appearance of the prototype of the Higgins boat--the craft that, in my opinion, did more to help win the war in the Pacific than any other single piece of equipment. In the pages of this book I shall have a great deal more to say about the Higgins boat because without it our landings on Japanese held beaches in large numbers would have been unthinkable.
Basically, the original Higgins boat used at Culebra, which was called the Eureka, resembled the modified model used successfully in the Pacific, North Africa, Sicily, Italy, Normandy and every other theater; mother and father of the LCVP (Landing Craft Vehicle Personnel) the standard landing craft, and a big and diversified family of LC's. Andrew Higgins told me he developed the boat in 1926 for use in the shallow waters of the Mississippi River and along the Gulf Coast, where it could run its bow up on river and bayou banks and back off easily. We did not get it until fourteen years later, but it was the same shallow-draft type with a tunnel stern that could nose up on the beach and retract. It suffered one defect, which wasn't remedied until later. The boat had no ramp that could be lowered, permitting the men to debark directly on the beach instead of jumping over the side.
The Marine Equipment Board had obtained five Eurekas, which proved their superiority on the Culebra beaches that spring. Not only did these boats mark a definite advance in landing facilities but I could see in their improvement and modification an answer to the Marine prayer--a retractable, shallow draft ramp boat, superior to the Japanese wooden type, that would carry us over the reefs to our island objectives.
Between the spring of 1940 and the spring of 1941, when we held Fleet Landing Exercise 7, we made great strides, under the urgency of the European war, in equipping amphibious troops. Back in Quantico, I was informed that the Navy had embarked on a ship purchase program to provide us with transports and was buying up all sorts of passenger liners that could be converted to our special assault needs. We already had one transport, the USS Henderson, but she was used solely for carrying Marine replacements to overseas stations and could not be employed as an assault transport, a term and a ship function that our amphibious needs had developed.
The first two vessels for transports, renamed the McCawley and the Barnett after Marine Corps Commandants, were purchased in New York, and I delegated a number of Marine officers to examine the ships and advise the Navy on the changes we desired. Washington obviously realized the gravity of the international situation, and our big brass was making up for the lost time. The old battleships were no longer suitable for carrying amphibious troops. We needed a special type of ship, carrying men and cargo, and equipped to launch landing boats rapidly and easily. Once put to the task and backed by an awakening public apprehension of danger, the Navy did its job ably.
Even with the acquisition of these new transports it became evident that great improvements would have to be made before we could employ them to maximum advantage. The davits were ponderous and slow, necessitating development of new davit and deck machinery. The water supply was inadequate for the number of troops the ships would carry, and there were other drawbacks. But it was a start, before the Navy began building special assault personnel and cargo transports, and we were encouraged.
When I commanded the landing forces in Fleet Landing Exercise No. 7, we employed assault transports for the first time. This exercise lasted from February 4 to February 16, 1941, and was a joint Army-Marine operation. Since the previous exercise, important developments had occurred. Our experience in Culebra demonstrated that it was possible to expand the 1st Marine
Brigade into a division with little effort. My staff officers were competent and well trained, functioned in a superior manner and showed themselves fully qualified to serve as divisional officers. Before embarking on Flex 7, the Brigade completed several months' intensive training at Guantanamo, Cuba, an alternative training area, and while in the Caribbean was redesignated, on February 1, 1941, the First Marine Division.
Flex 7 was historic as the final prewar exercise in the Caribbean. It was a joint exercise involving elements of the First U.S. Army Infantry Division (then under overall Marine command for amphibious training) and the First Marine Division. My Marine division was below divisional strength and its three infantry battalions, plus two Army battalions, placed the exercise once again on a brigade, not a divisional, basis.
Naval forces included Battleship Division Five with our three old friends, the Texas,
Arkansas and Wyoming; Cruiser Division Seven comprising four ships; Destroyer Squadron Two (less a division) and an aircraft group including two aircraft carriers and the 1st Marine Air Group. After the previous exercise we had recommended the use of carriers and this was adopted. Instead of a makeshift transport group we actually had three transport divisions: our own three ships, the McCawley, Wharton and Harry Lee; two Army Transports and three APDs (destroyer transports). Unified command of all participating forces was under Rear Admiral Ernest J.King, who had succeeded Hayne Ellis as Commander, Atlantic Fleet.
During the Culebra exercise I had occasion again to assert my authority in behalf of my Marines. I have already described the incident of the mess bills on board Navy snips but the impositions went much farther. The Marine was always the whipping boy. On board ship there was an acute shortage of fresh water and the Captain of the McCawley accused his Marine passengers of stealing it, despite strict orders to conserve. For a period of 24 hours, he shut off all fresh water outlets, except those required for cooking, but afterwards 10,000 gallons were still missing. I sent Captain Victor H. Krulak, a member of my staff, to investigate and he found that the Marines were not to
blame. The ship's petty officers were diverting fresh water from the tanks to flush their toilets.
Overcrowding was another irritation. On one transport, where conditions appeared unreasonably congested, I discovered the Captain had set aside much needed space on the top deck as a promenade for his dog. That officer was detached from his command shortly afterwards.
The purpose of Flex 7 was threefold: to train Army and Marine divisional units in landing operations; to test the efficacy of existing doctrine governing these operations; and to train commanders in joint command and staff procedure. Rear Admiral King was not an easy man to get along with; he was far different from his predecessor, who had such an enlightened grasp of amphibious problems and appreciated the shore commander's viewpoint.
King was a brilliant man, as he proved later throughout the war as COMINCH (Commander-in-CHief, U.S. Fleet) and Chief of Naval Operations. He was dynamic, energetic, severe and quickly impatient with men who couldn't think as fast as he did. On the debit side, he was a domineering man, a frosty product of naval tradition, and he sometimes interpreted the term "command" too literally for harmonious conduct of a complex undertaking like an amphibious landing. With all these defects--which were in reality the defects of his virtues, as the French say--King's diamond-like hardness and perfectionism were destined to stand the United States in good stead.
The Caribbean exercise was probably the first occasion in King's career when he was connected with an enterprise in which he knew less about training the forces involved than the officer primarily responsible for the training, who was his junior. But he never admitted this fact.
The Marine never tries to tell the sailor how to run his ship. He recognizes that the ability and experience of the sailor fit him to operate his vessel without outside interference. Conversely, the Marine does not expect the sailor to tell him how to conduct landing operations, for which the Marine's ability and training equally fit him.
On board Admiral King's flagship, the USS Texas, we bitterly disputed the selection of landing beaches. I had my own ideas, based upon long experience, of what we needed to permit full exploitation of the training program. King would have no part of it. He insisted on making his own selection and chose a beach on the nearby island of St. John, which, in war, would have been plain suicide for an assault force. His beach was shallow, blocked by impassable mountains and was totally unsuitable for the landing of troops, artillery, tanks and supplies.
I pointed out to him that landing on his beach would be useless unless we had a beachhead. Now beachhead is a term developed in the progress of amphibious warfare to describe a topographical and tactical element. It is synonymous with bridgehead, the term used by the Army to describe a suitable point on the enemy side of a river which can be fortified to protect a crossing. In amphibious warfare, beachhead means an area beyond the actual beach which can be held to protect the landing of supplies on the beach and used as a base to continue the assault.
"Beachhead!" King was caustic. "I'm getting sick and tired of hearing the word 'beachhead.' It's beach, I tell you, not beachhead. Why don't you Marines get it straight?"
"Admiral,w e do get it straight," I replied. "A beach is one thing, but a beachhead is another. A beachhead is a place where you can get your men, tanks and supplies on, and also get them off if you want to move inland."
Beachhead and operation were the two most common military terms to emerge from World War II as additions to the English language, but it was useless to argue with a man like King.
So with the remark on beaches his directive stood, and I was handicapped from the very beginning. He ordered me to make the landing with nothing to go on but the general information contained in the sailing directions compiled for mariners. These were all very well for coastwise traders, but useless to a Commanding General preparing to put a large force ashore on unreconnoitered, "hostile" territory. King had airplane photographs of this particular beach which he could have given me, thus providing the accurate
detailed information we badly needed. Instead, he kept the photographs to himself. I never was able to figure out why he kept them. After all, the Navy and the Marines were "fighting" on the same side. Or so I thought.
It was obvious that if the exercise was to serve any profitable purpose we could not--and should not--use King's beach. It would wreck all our plans. I told the Admiral that landing at that point would be of no value whatsoever and, furthermore, if we went ahead, the choice of such a landing beach would cause a good deal of criticism among the younger officers. It was opposed to all they had learned in training, since it was a narrow beach with no egress to the rear. His decision, if he insisted upon it, would seriously reflect on the judgment of the higher command in the minds of the men who knew such a choice was wrong in amphibious warfare. My argument won the day and grudgingly--for he had built a career on being right--he cancelled his directive.
This was one of many controversies showing basic differences which sometimes existed between Navy and Marine thinking. King had another idea for a landing, this time on the southern coast of Puerto Rico itself. In this case the beach had an impassable canal behind it and to approach the canal would have necessitated a ninety degree turn through a narrow channel parallel to the beach. Enfilading fire from the "enemy" across the canal would have wiped us out.
Before accepting this beach I asked permission to fly over it. King, now more reasonable, lent me his plane. From aerial inspection, it was obvious the beach was wholly unsuited for landing. The area in the rear was marshy, and a letter from my medical officer, Commander Brown, reinforced my objections by pointing out the district was infested with flukes and also had the highest incidence of malaria in the Caribbean.
Another fact I rammed home before we abandoned the project was that no effort had been made to obtain trespass rights for that particular area. It was Puerto Rican private property and we would have been showed under with claims once we set foot ashore there without permission. Conditions were different at
Culebra and Vieques. There we rented the beaches and could do as we liked. But not on Puerto Rico.
By this time Admiral King was convinced that I knew my business. He agreed to my plans and supported me fully. Army and Marine forces held alternate landing exercises, valuable for future joint operations. These landing exercises also were useful in training personnel of the new transports in debarkation duties, so we could compile data regarding the transfer of men from ship to landing craft, essential in planning a ship-to-shore schedule. Equipment and boats were still short despite our efforts since the previous exercise to make up the deficit.
Ideas were flowing around the design for an amphibious tank and we nearly produced one involuntarily during the exercise. A tank was travelling ashore on a lighter under tow when the lighter careened and the tank slid into the sea. We would have lost the vehicle entirely had not the tank settled in an upright position and although it became completely amphibious we managed to salvage it.
I established headquarters ashore on Culebra but even there it was difficult to escape the influence of the nigh naval command, reluctant to relinquish the slightest degree of control. A Navy staff fashion at this period was white blouses and black trousers. Arrayed like this King and his staff came ashore to inspect my positions. They looked like Soviet Commissars at a midsummer festival in Red Square.
In so far as these visits showed interest in operations ashore, I welcomed them but I felt the military experience of King and his staff did not qualify them to judge my positions and formations. King told me confidently during discussions on the beach that he had some military experience. I asked where he got it. He said he commanded a regiment of midshipmen at the Naval Academy in 1902. I let the matter drop.
Another visitor to the maneuvers was Secretary of the Navy Frank Knox, who joined the jeering section. The Marine utility uniform, which Knox had never seen, impressed him more than any other phase of the operation. He was accustomed to seeing the Marines on parade in dress blue or pressed forestry greens,
so he was shocked when he saw their bedraggled battle uniforms, saturated with dust and splotched with brown earth.
I explained that the men were living under battle conditions and were working and sleeping in foxholes, for which this particular outfit had been designed. The Secretary appeared to accept the explanation but when he returned to Washington he reported to our Commandant that his Marines looked like "a lot of bums." Knox had forgotten--or perhaps never known--that the appellation "bums" was first used in English to describe one of the most successful armies of modern times, Sherman's. In any case,however, the Secretary's reference was not intended as a compliment.
Although Flex 7 suffered from lack of equipment,the results were by no means negligible. Satisfactory boat training and practice of supply functions in landing were carried out. All participating units finished training with a better appreciation of the intricate problems involved in a joint undertaking, even on the small scale of this particular exercise.
However, my naval troubles were not at an end.I still had to deal with the admiralty temperament. One night at diner King mentioned a communication which I denied receiving. This denial so angered him that he jumped up from his place at the table, walked over to his desk at the side of his cabin,dashed off a message and then resumed his seat.
Later during the dinner, this message, demanding acknowledgement, was handed to me across the table by King's chief of staff. This excessive formality was humiliating, especially in the presence of other officers seated around the Admirals' table. It was also amusing. In the correct manner of acknowledging official dispatches I looked King gravely in the eye and intoned, "Your so and so received . . . ," following the acknowledgement formula. He said nothing, and the meal proceeded to after-dinner coffee, which was bitter in my mouth.
After Culebra, I left the USS Texas with the feeling that by insisting on carrying out my own theories I had incurred King's disapproval and that, in all probability, I would be relieved of command. This conviction was strengthened by the absence of
of official farewell. The Admiral failed to see me over the side, according to naval custom, and I went on board the transport Harry Lee certain that my services would soon be terminated. This feeling persisted despite the fact that, during Flex 7, President Roosevelt authorized me to assume the rank of Major General ("without pay and allowances") although I did not "make my number" until the following October. King was promoted to Vice Admiral at the same time.
I knew, nevertheless, that I had done my job, and this feeling of pride and satisfaction helped bolster my morale. Next day a letter arrived by special boat from the flagship. I looked at the envelope and felt that this was the end. I took the letter into the privacy of my cabin, because it would have been impossible to conceal the blow from the others if I read it on deck. Here was what King, the caustic, had written:
At the close of the recent intensive landing force exercises, I wish to express to you and to the troops under your command in this area my feeling of satisfaction that such well-trained troops, so well commanded, are an integral part of the Atlantic Fleet, and my confidence in their capacity to do their full part and to do us all credit in whatever active operations may come our way. Well done!
It was, in many ways, the finest commendation I have ever received, and it taught me that, unlike many another in high places, Ernie King would say his worst to your face, would never go behind your back, and would reward performance with a generosity as unexpected as it was King-ly.
After Culebra a need developed for facilities at home to free us from dependence upon the Caribbean Islands, which at some future date might be denied us. An intensive search of the Atlantic Coast from Maine to Florida was made and the investigating Board of Officers hit upon New River, North Carolina, where broad beaches and ample rear areas provided the necessary conditions of terrain. Through the influence and assistance of the Hon. Clifton A. Woodrum, Congressman from Roanoke, Va., appropriations were obtained for the purchase of
this area in the winter of 1940. This gave us training grounds for land operations as well as a landing beach for boats.
New River became the largest Marine training base in the United States and its size, 110,000 acres, enabled us to give substance to what were only dreams in the restricted area of Culebra and Vieques. By the following August, our exercise was almost as large as some of the island operations in the Pacific.
For the force landing exercise starting August 4, 1941, the largest of its type held in the United States, 1,500 yard beaches were laid out and designated by letters for each assault division. Across them we put ashore 16,500 officers and men of the First Army Division and the First Marine Division, 300 vehicles and 2,200 tons of supplies. Forty-two naval vessels and four aircraft carriers participated. Vice Admiral King, Commander, Atlantic Fleet, was again in overall command but was not present.
Such a high degree of realism was attained that following the seizure of a beachhead, an advance of nine miles inland was made before withdrawal was ordered, a necessary ingredient of a well-balanced training plan,. Marine parachute troops were employed for the first time and 266 landing craft of different types were used.
Analyzing the results, the maneuver was again hampered by lack of equipment and personnel, especially in the field of communications. Initial phases of the landing suffered from shortage of tank lighters and of motor transport ashore. There were other deficiencies which an enterprising "enemy" could have exploited, but in my mind the debut of the Higgins boat, completed with ramp, more than compensated for these deficiencies.
The Bureau of Ships, true to its stolid habits, supplied a diversity of craft but our five 26-foot Higgins ramp boats set a new mark for performance and reliability. At last we had the boat we wanted. Of the several types used, our five Higgins ramp boats and sixteen Higgins tank lighters "proved the most satisfactory," my official report reads. Actually, this was sheer understatement. They proved to be some of our most potent war weapons.
Now that we had the New River training base and Washington
began to loosen up with appropriations, there was no limit to what we could do. Mass production training was one of the innovations. We built the first mockup: a platform resembling the side of a ship over which men learned to debark using cargo nets hanging over the side. It looked like a huge movie set strayed from Hollywood but was far more substantial. Over its side graduated thousands of men who carried the lessons they learned in North Carolina to surf-swept atolls of the Pacific. The mockup cost $175,000 and to wring the money out of Washington, our resourceful Quartermaster, Brigadier General Seth Williams, performed a miracle.
The New River installation enabled us to embark upon the first large scale amphibious training program, which made the big August maneuver possible. In June, 1941, I was given command of the First Joint Training Force, a provisional corps organization consisting of the First Army Division commanded by Major General D.C. Cubbison, the First Marine Division commanded by Brigadier General Philip Torrey and other troops.
The primary mission of this corps was to prepare a two=division expeditionary force for employment under the Commander, Atlantic Fleet, in amphibious operations in the Atlantic. War was threatening the United States. This largely underscored all planning and primary emphasis was placed on combat readiness. However, the group originally envisioned as an expeditionary force increasingly became a training staff.
The reason for this transition is understandable if we recall what now seems so unbelievable, that in 1941 the United States had not a single amphibiously trained unit--even in the most elementary principle--except the miniscule Fleet Marine Force. In Army field service regulations of the day (and even much later) landing operations occupied the tail-end spot in a list of so-called"special" operations of the remote-contingency type, being spotted just behind "Partisan Warfare." A few Army observers had looked over our peacetime Fleet Landing Exercises, and, in the San Clemente maneuvers of 1937, a small provisional force of West Coast soldiers had received elementary indoctrination, but, at the end of the war-games, this had been disbanded.
The subject of amphibious warfare was a dead letter in all of our service schools (except those operated by the Marine Corps at Quantico)--largely because few people believed either that major landing operations would ever be needed, or that, in any event, they could succeed. I often look through back files of Army professional journals of the period, but I have yet to find a single article dealing with the problem of amphibious assault, unless a stray Marine officer managed to find his way into print. Nowadays, this is all changed: the public can readily be excused for believing that the amphibious miracle of ten years ago was nothing sensational; and now that the technique has been proven to be successful and essential, it has found a horde of self-appointed sponsors, each of whom competes to claim credit for its evolution.
As a result of this lack of any amphibious know-how (let alone trained units), it became the obvious duty of the Fleet Marine Force to convert itself into a training-command, and this was what we became.
During June, July and August of 1041 we trained intensively at New River but results pointed up the necessity for radical change. At Fort Story, Va., I acted as umpire in a landing by the First Army Division. The weather was bad and interfered with plans but the operation was so inefficiently conducted that I wrote to Admiral Stark, Chief of Naval Operations, recommending the creation of a special organization devoted exclusively to amphibious training. After completing training at New River in August, the First Joint Training force was redesignated the Amphibious Force, Atlantic Fleet, with headquarters at the Norfolk Naval Base. The force comprised Army and Marine units under my command. Army, Navy and Marine personnel were selected for the training staff with Rear Admiral Henry K. Hewitt eventually in overall command.
After the departure of Admiral King from the amphibious command we had a number of admirals in charge but no sooner were they indoctrinated in amphibious principles than they were transferred. One of them refused to be indoctrinated and his stay was brief. Duties of an amphibious admiral include a certain
amount of flying but this particular officer said his wife would not let him fly. He moved on after a few weeks.
Rear Admiral Hewitt was outstanding as directing head of the new enterprise. While he came to us with little background in amphibious training, he applied himself earnestly to our particular problems and made rapid progress. He was intelligent, sympathetic and willing to accept recommendations. Our relationship was pleasant and "all hands" were happy.
On the West Coast, a similar organization known as the Second Joint Training Force was created under command of Major General C.B. Vogel, USMC, and later became known as Amphibious Corps, Pacific Fleet. The Corps comprised the Second Marine Division, the Third Army Division and other forces. When Vogel left for the Pacific a year later I succeeded him.
This was the nucleus of the command which prepared all six Marine divisions for war in the Pacific, and, what was fully as important, imparted all the U.S. Army ever learned in basic amphibious knowledge. I have heard it remarked, with some superiority, I must say, that our Army had 28 amphibiously trained divisions by the end of World War II, whereas the Marines never had more than six. What this glib observation omits, intentionally or not, is the fact that the first three U.S. Infantry divisions ever to become amphibious units, the 1st, 3rd, and 9th, were trained by the Marine Corps; these were likewise the total of assault infantry divisions which executed our North African landings. furthermore, in additional to these crucial three divisions, Marines trained the 7th, 77th, 81st, and 96th Infantry Divisions. That means, in recapitulation, that we gave the Army seven of those vaunted 28 amphibious divisions (including the first three). With seven Marine-trained divisions, even the Army, I should think, would find relatively little difficulty in carrying on with training the rest.
The Fleet Marine Force doctrine spread through all services in all theaters of operation. Admiral Hewitt and Vice Admiral Alan G. Kirk, key members of whose staffs had trained with me, applied the doctrine to landing operations in North Africa,
Sicily, Italy and Southern France. Vice Admiral Daniel E. Barbey, who had been chief of staff to the Commander of Training in the Atlantic Fleet, carried the doctrine to the Southwest Pacific. The First Marine Amphibious Corps took it to the South Pacific and the Fifth Amphibious Corps continued to practice and refine its basic tactics in the Central Pacific.
Our doctrine had begun a revolution in warfare.
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